Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

11.4.08

The café in history, part one.


Is there a Melbourne milk bar, greengrocer, post office, bootmaker’s shop or haberdashery (is the word even used any more?) that hasn’t been turned into a café?

They spring up like mushrooms after a week of rain. Every time a café opens, local property-for-sale boards exhort buyers to 'live the latte lifestyle' and house prices leap 50% overnight. Suburbs like Seddon and Yarraville surely now have more places to eat out than houses.

What did people do before there were cafés? The short answer is that they went to other, earlier cafés, just not as often. And they weren’t called cafés. Eons ago, I’m not sure when, probably in the Middle Ages or the Dark Ages or even as long ago as the 1970s, cafés went under another name. They were called coffee lounges.

Like the dinosaur, most coffee lounges died out due to major genetic faults that included lace in the windows, embossed plastic tablecloths, toasted sandwiches sitting upright like the Pyramids in wicker baskets and appalling coffee. Some survived against the odds and live on to this day, serving grey insipid cappuccino at scalding temperatures in bad cups at outer suburban shopping malls like Mountain Gate or Fountain Gate or whatever the hell it's called.

However, one particular 1960s artefact of early Melbourne coffee culture - one of the better ones - remains unchanged to this day. While it wasn't until the mid-eighties that cutting-edge places such as Baker's and Mario's served coffee in glasses, Moonee Ponds cafe Bruno's (above) had been setting the Vetravirs and Duralexes up on the bar in front of the espresso machine since 1961.

It hasn't changed. Bruno's menu is vintage '60s. The open grilled chicken, avocado and cheese with coleslaw and potato salad on the side is the thing to go for. Or try the ravioli bolognese or the grilled whiting or the lasagne, all under ten dollars. The sandwiches are classic toasted with not a ciabatta or foccaccia in sight. Not that there's anything wrong with ciabatta or foccaccia but on a bleary Saturday morning there's also nothing wrong with a classic steaming toasted ham, cheese and tomato or crisped bacon and egg sandwich in white bread with butter on top.

The coffee glasses sit in vintage tooled leather holders. The only part of the 1960s missing from the picture above would be the ashtray overflowing with Viscount and Turf cigarette butts. The TAB was once next door in the arcade in Puckle Street and on Saturday mornings Bruno's was packed to the rafters with chain-smoking punters clutching pink form guides from the Sporting Globe. The TAB, the cigarettes and the Sporting Globe are long gone but everything else about Bruno's is the same. I took the photo on Friday. Then I had a toasted egg, cheese and tomato sandwich.

And the coffee is still good. You can tell by the colour.

3 comments:

Anne said...

Is a haberdashery hats or more generally clothes? My Nana occasionally referred to clothing boutiques as haberdasheries but I never knew whether that was her own definition or approved usage.

My students are shocked that there used to be a "butt room" on campus where students could go to smoke.

I think I will put Bruno's on my "must visit before I die" list.

kitchen hand said...

Anne, a haberdasher's stock appears to vary by continent but the haberdashery of my childhood sold knitting wool, needles, buttons and tape and was a Commonwealth Bank sub-branch. I used to deposit a shilling a week at the end counter and watch mountains of wool being sold at the main one.

Anne said...

I love the idea of mountains of wool co-existing with a bank, and I am sure all my knitterly pals would, too. After all, we behave as though our yarn stashes are worth their weight in gold.